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Spirituality: Perspectives of Sikhism (Part 5 of 5)

The final installment in the series: Part 5 – Spiritual Strategies of the Sikhs

Previous Articles in this Series:
Part 1 – The Teachings of Sikhism
Part 2 – My Perspectives on Spirituality
Part 3 – Spirituality in Counseling and Psychotherapy
Part 4 – The Experiential Stages of Spirituality

Spiritual Developmental and Intervention Strategies

21st Century problems are the problems of the soul. As typical of all dawning centuries and now the ushering of this new millennium, humans now, in addition to their body care and mind adjustments are acutely concerned about their souls.

This is a major paradigm shift. In the past, humans viewed themselves as bodies with a soul — human beings who have spiritual experiences. But there is a new awakening now as we begin to understand ourselves as souls with bodies — spiritual beings having a human experience — as most prophets, rishis, munies, saints, seers, and great men and women have always asserted. The ultimate mission of our lives is not only the care of our bodies and minds, but also the care of our souls. From the temporal problems of the body and mind, we must move to our spiritual issues.

Goals of Counseling and Psychotherapy

From the perspective of Sikhism, I would like to call human development the ultimate development. The basic purpose of counseling and psychotherapy is help the clients become spiritual Sachyara. Therapy may enhance clients’ awareness and help them take significant steps for the edification of their soul to achieve transcendence and ultimacy. As a matter of fact, therapy can become a spiritual process itself (Benner, 1989). 

Care of the soul and cure of the soul are two additional important concepts that should be of great interest to counselors and psychotherapists. According to Moore (1992,) we have to learn the task of organizing and shaping our lives for the good of the soul. Per Szasz (1978,) cure of the soul “…is closely linked to a number of basic concepts, such as wrongdoing, guilt, repentance, confession, conversion, and change of mind (p. 32). Interestingly, all these concepts are also the major concerns of counseling and psychology.

From my own perspective, the ultimate goal of spiritual counseling and psychotherapy is to help clients develop a sense of serenity or a sense of equanimity called Sahaj in Sikhism. It is the stage of spiritual development when people lose the sense of duality. In Sikhism, it is called losing dubdha. It is the highest stage of faith when a person has all faith and no doubts. Benner (1989) describes it as “…the integration of action and thought, conscious and unconscious, interior life and external behavior, body and soul.” I believe that stage of serenity and equanimity is a stage when a person’s heart becomes like a deep ocean. In this deep ocean waves and turbulence of sorrows and troubles come and go, but this deep ocean stays the same, just calm. 

Human Ecology and World Peace

The major and fundamental purpose of all religions is to promote love and peace among humans through spiritual bonds. Unfortunately, religions can also have an iatrogenic effect. Rather than working for unity and world peace, many atrocities have been committed in name of religions. At the time of this writing in 2004, 192 people have been killed and more than 600 injured in Spain, a stark reminder of the September 11, 2001 tragedy of the United States. I am reminded of Guru Nanak’s prayer to God,

Jagat Jalanda Rakh Le, Aapni kirpa dhar. (SGGS, p. 853).

The world is in flames. Lord, Waheguru, save it by your Grace!

Through counseling and psychotherapy, people must be trained to live principled and spiritual lives to combat violence. There will be no world peace, unless there is peace among the religions. There is a need to transcend ingenuous messages of various religions and embrace universal spiritual messages of love and peace. We might have to move from daily petition, “God bless America” to Nanak naam chardi kala, tere bhane’ sarbat ka bhalla.” God, please bless all your creation!

Spiritual Strategies of the Sikhs

To address the existential problems of humans, Guru Nanak suggested the inward transformation, the development of spiritual consciousness. This spiritual consciousness is developed by meditating on the word of God, Gurbani. Guru Nanak suggested three major aspects of inward transformation: compassion, remembrance of God, and empathy. Without spiritual life, both body and mind are diseased. It is important that humans dedicate their lives to Truth and spend time with those of like mind.

Spiritual Interventions during Crises

  1. Ardaas (The Sikh Prayer)

Poloma and Pendleton (1991,) have identified four types of prayers, meditative, ritualistic, petitionary, and colloquial. Interestingly, in Sikhism all these prayers are observed. To address problems or crisis in one’s life, generally petitionary prayers are made in the presence of congregation called, Sangat. Sikhs believe that when we submit ourselves to the One, all worldly problems are resolved. Also, they believe that prayers made from the core of the heart are always answered,

Birthi kadae na hovaee jaan kee Ardaas. (SGGS, p. 819.)

The humble invocation never goes in vain.

Sikhs do simran (repetition of God’s name) or meditate on a special shabad (psalm) from the Guru Granth Sahib for special requests. For instance, it is believed that reciting the following lines saves you from your enemies and other worldly sufferings,

Tati vao na laga di ji, Gurandi, sharan peya Parbrahm sharanai.

The hot wind doesn't blow over one who has the God's protection

Chaugird hamare Ram kar, Dukh lage na bhai ji, Gurandi, sharan peya.

The Lord's protecting circle is on all four sides. Pain and sorrow do not bother me, oh brother.

  1. Marathon Prayers

Marathon (continuous, unbroken) prayers (Akhand Paath) are observed on special occasions such as birth, wedding, or death ceremonies. The Guru Granth Sahib (1430 pages long) which is the Guru of the Sikhs is recited continuously without a break over 48 hours. Generally, at the completion of this ceremony, thanks are offered for answered prayers or new petitions are made to Akal Purukh (the undying doer of all things.) Also, free meals are served to the congregation.

  1. Acceptance of God’s Will

Sikhs are admonished to accept God’s will (Waheguru’s Bhanna) cheerfully. Sikh history is replete with thousands of those Sikhs who joyfully laid down their lives for the good of all. The following lines addressed to God express the basic message of Sikhism — that everything happens according to God’s will. There is a silver lining in all dark clouds of human miseries.

Jee jant sabh sharan tumhari

Sarbh chint tudh paase

Jo tudh bhave soi changa,

Ek Nanak ki ardaasai.

All your creation seeks refuge in you.

You care for all.

Whatever your will.

I, Nanak, accept it joyfully.

 According to Gurbani, (God’s word) what we think is a pleasure, is actually a pain in the long run because worldly pleasures take us away from the spiritual path. It is only in pain, that we remember the One and meditate on God’s name. When sufficiently understood, worldly pains are imperative for our emotional maturity, and spiritual development. They give us depth.

  1. Spiritual Laws for Living

Sikhism praises human life as a great gift from God. It is considered a wonderful opportunity to edify our soul through meditation on His Name. The main purpose of human life is to connect to our own soul and be reunited with the One (Waheguru.) Sikhs don’t worry about going to Heaven or Hell. They are mainly concerned about their reunion with Waheguru. Atma (soul) longs to re-immerse with Parmatma (Supersoul.)

Jasse jal me jal aai khitana.

Tiu joyti sang jot samana. (SGGS, p. 278).

As river water mixes with ocean water and loses its identity,

In a similar way, the human soul can merge with the Supersoul to become One.

Guru Nanak’s Japji (Song of the Soul) lays out the pathway to become spiritual. In stanza 28 of Japji, the ethico-spiritual qualities of santokh (contentment) saram (modesty or hard work), and dhyan (meditation) are described as the necessary prescriptions. Delights of voluptuous pleasures are rejected in Sikhism, but Nature and human life per se are eulogized. The world is appreciated and enjoyed but there is no attachment to that.

  1. Dealing with the Ultimate Guilt, Ultimate Anxiety, etc.

As previously mentioned, I believe the ultimate guilt, ultimate anxiety, etc. are really the problems of the soul. These problems which are deeply rooted in the soul, cannot be easily resolved. The answer is only through His Grace or His Naam (experience of Oneness through God’s name.)

Bhariai hath, pair tan deh,

Pani dhotai utras kheh.

Mut paliti kapar hoe.

De- sabun laiai-oh dhoe

Bhairai mat, papa-kai sang

Oh dhopai navai kai rang. (SGGS, p. 4 - Japji).

When your hands, your feet and your body are dirty,

Take water and wash all the dust away.

When your clothes become stained with urine,

Take soap and wash out the stain.

When your mind becomes loaded with error and pain,

Then wash your mind clean with the love of the Name.


I would like to conclude this chapter with a suggestion that the spiritual transformation of our clients must transcend their own personal worldly interests. Spiritually sublime or elevated persons must devote their spiritual energies to the welfare of others, their community or the world through their selfless service and sacrifice. A personal quietude generally ends in an incomplete spiritual journey. It is in service that the journey is completed.

Lastly, we need to go beyond the narrow confines of institutionalized religions. The spiritual path should be our ultimate path. Otherwise, there is a real danger that the religious flames now burning at the cusp of the new millennium will engulf us all. Only Truth can free us, as Guru Nanak writes:

There are many dogmas,

There are many systems.

There are many spiritual revelations


Truth is above all these,

But even higher is a life lived in Truth.

One Potter has fashioned all the pots

One Light pervades all creation.

(SGGS, Siri Rag, Ashtpadiyan)



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* All references to Sri Guru Granth Sahib are made here to Dr. Gopal Singh’s translated edition published in 1978.

This article was first published in 2004 in The Journal of Perspectives on Guru Granth Sahib  Edited by Dr. Balwant Singh Dhillon, Head Department of Guru Nanak Dev Studies, Guru Nanak Dev University Amritsar. The complete references as follows,

Sandhu. D.S. (2004). Spirituality: Perspectives of Sikhism.  The Journal of Perspectives

on Guru Granth Sahib,2, 57-79.


Previous Articles in this Series:
Part 1 – The Teachings of Sikhism
Part 2 – My Perspectives on Spirituality
Part 3 – Spirituality in Counseling and Psychotherapy
Part 4 – The Experiential Stages of Spirituality

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